Shevchuk: “The Ukrainian people are deeply exhausted”

The head of the Catholic Church in Ukraine met with Aid to the Church in Need to discuss the challenges the country faces.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the largest Catholic Church in Ukraine, met with representatives of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on the feast day of St. Nicholas, at his headquarters, in Lviv. The main challenges facing Ukraine today, and how best to support the country in this critical time, were some of the topics discussed.

Meeting with Archbishop Shevchuk Info trip Ukraine 2023
Meeting with Archbishop Shevchuk Info trip Ukraine 2023

Words of hope are essential in a country ravaged by war, the Major Archbishop said, confirming what the ACN delegation had sensed during its weeklong trip between Lviv and Kyiv. Even where signs of war are not visible, its effects are always present in the minds and hearts of all Ukrainians.

A visit with a therapeutic effect

“Ukrainians are feeling very, very tired. People are exhausted, because there is no sign that the conflict is coming to an end”, said Major Archbishop Shevchuk. “The population is terribly traumatised by the war, and the key question is how we are going to deal with this trauma. The future of the country is tied to this issue. Around 80% of the population have been affected by this war, some are physically injured, but above all they are wounded in their souls. And then we have psychological trauma, that I can witness to first-hand. Whenever I travel, I can’t sleep for several nights, while my brain gets used to the sounds around me. As a Church, one of our first responsibilities is to care for our priests. Over 50% of them have told us that they are worn out”, he added.

Soup kitchen at the Albertines, and food distribution during trip to Ukraine 2023.
Soup kitchen at the Albertines, and food distribution during trip to Ukraine 2023.

“In this context, ACN’s visit, and its commitment to Ukraine, have had a therapeutic effect for us. More than the humanitarian help, what is vital is the human relationship. I can share with you my pain, but also my dreams.”

“The war we are experiencing now in Ukraine is no longer an open war, or a direct attack, it is a war of attrition. How can we keep ourselves from collapsing from exhaustion? Only authentic love never tires from the struggle, authentic values are what will help us overcome despair”, he stressed.

Fear of being forgotten

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk highlighted the gravity of the situation Ukraine is facing during this second winter of war, especially in terms of its electrical grid. In 2022, around 60% of the country’s electrical infrastructure was destroyed in the war, and it is estimated that up to 75% of Ukrainians will be depending on generators for electricity and heating this winter.

On 2 December, Kyiv suffered one of the most serious bombing attacks to date, in a reminder of how urgent the situation is. According to the leader of the Greek Catholic Church, Ukrainians are worried that the world will forget about their war, which could lead to a drop in humanitarian aid, leaving the population in a situation of dire need.

Reconciliation and forgiveness

The war in Ukraine has created division and resentment in society, and pain has become a daily reality for many Ukrainians. “Today there is a dividing line, depending on the experience one has had of the war”, Shevchuk explained. Families have also suffered from these divisions. There is a rupture between those who left the country and those who stayed, between husbands serving on the frontline and their evacuated wives, and between those experiencing the war in the west of Ukraine and those in the east. The Major Archbishop highlights the importance of working together to overcome these differences and build a new society based on respect and tolerance. “The feelings of abandonment and resentment against others are also sociological weapons of war. It is easy to look for a scapegoat, for someone to blame for everything”, he said.

Amid the adversity, Major Archbishop Shevchuk made a call for reconciliation and forgiveness as part of the process to overcome traumas. Although recognising that forgiveness can be difficult, he highlighted the importance of not letting hatred take hold of people’s hearts. The first step to reconciliation is resilience. “When fear and hatred take over our decisions, we become slaves to them. Although hatred is a normal reaction in the face of the aggression we are suffering, to give in to it means letting it win in my heart”, he said.

Philipp Ozores (General Secretary of ACN International)(on the left), Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk (on the right).
Philipp Ozores, General Secretary of ACN International (left) with Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk (right).

The Secretary General of ACN, Philipp Ozores, was also present and thanked the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for the opportunity to meet at such an important moment in his nation’s history, assuring him that ACN will continue to support Ukraine during the coming year, both financially and with our prayers.

ACN intensified its help for the Roman Catholic and the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, following the Russian full-scale invasion in 2022, and has contributed more than 15 million euro to over 600 projects since February 2022. Help has gone to support priests, religious, and seminarians, as well as to fund Church-run projects to host IDPs. Heating projects have been a particular concern, as have renovation of damaged buildings and the purchase of vehicles to help the Church carry out its pastoral and relief work. In the field of pastoral care, ACN finances all kinds of youth ministry initiatives, including camps for kids. One important aspect of ACN’s assistance has also been the subsidizing of trauma healing formation courses.

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